Israeli military ‘encircles’ Khan Younis after 24 soldiers killed in Gaza

Nasser and El Amal hospitals under intense Israeli bombardment, endangering patients, staff and displaced Palestinians.

A Palestinian woman at the grave of her son killed in an Israeli strike in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on January 18, 2024 [Arafat Barbakh/Reuters]

The Israeli military says its ground forces have “encircled” the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip after 24 of its soldiers were killed in the enclave in its largest single-day toll in the three-month war.

“Over the past day, troops carried out an extensive operation during which they encircled Khan Younis and deepened the operation in the area,” the military said in a statement on Tuesday, calling the city a stronghold of the Palestinian armed group Hamas.

“Ground troops engaged in close-quarters combat, directed [air] strikes and used intelligence to coordinate fire, resulting in the elimination of dozens of terrorists,” it said of the attacks on Gaza’s second-largest city.

Al Jazeera’s Hani Mahmoud, reporting from Rafah in southern Gaza, said the Israeli army’s operations would only deepen the humanitarian crisis in the city, which has been reeling “from an extreme shortage of food, water and medical supplies”.

Khan Younis was “designated as a safe zone for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who evacuated from the northern parts and Gaza City at the start of the war”, Mahmoud said, adding that it “is now a scene of much suffering and devastation”.

Israeli forces killed at least 65 people in attacks on Khan Younis on Monday, according to medical sources.

Palestinian officials said at least 25,490 people have been killed and 63,000 wounded in Israeli attacks on Gaza since October 7. The death toll from Hamas’s attacks in southern Israel stands at 1,139.

Hospitals under attack

Gaza’s Ministry of Health said Nasser Hospital and El Amal City Hospital in Khan Younis, among the few partially functioning hospitals in the territory, were under “extreme danger” from Israeli bombardment.

“The buildings of the Nasser Medical Complex are exposed to shrapnel, endangering the lives of patients, staff and displaced people,” the ministry said on its Telegram channel on Tuesday.

“The Israeli occupation places Nasser Medical Complex and El Amal Hospital in Khan Younis in extreme danger,” it said, calling for “urgent intervention” to safeguard both facilities.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society, which operates El Amal Hospital, on Tuesday said Israeli drones were targeting anyone moving around the facility.

It said its ambulances were unable to reach the injured and a civilian was killed by Israeli gunfire at the entrance of the hospital, noting “gunfire and repeated targeting of displaced individuals” in posts on X.

Leo Cans, the head of mission for Palestine with the international medical charity Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF), said about 20 percent of healthcare workers were still working in Nasser Hospital with most having to flee for their own safety and that of their families.

“This is a strategy that has been used by the Israeli military to scare people, to terrorise the healthcare workers for them to leave without having to shut down the hospital,” Cans told Al Jazeera.

The Israeli military has repeatedly asserted that Hamas fighters operate in and around hospitals, which medical staff and Palestinian health officials have denied.

(Al Jazeera)

Deadliest day for Israel

An Israeli military spokesperson said 21 soldiers were killed on Monday in an explosion in central Gaza when two buildings they had mined for demolition collapsed after Palestinian fighters fired grenades at a nearby tank.

Three soldiers were killed in a separate attack on Monday in southern Gaza, taking the total killed in a single day to 24. At least 217 soldiers have been killed since the ground offensive began.

“Yesterday, we experienced one of our most difficult days since the war erupted,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday. “In the name of our heroes, for the sake of our lives, we will not stop fighting until absolute victory.”

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said the war would determine Israel’s future “for decades to come”. “The fall of the fighters is a requirement to achieve the goals of the war,” he said.

The day’s death toll comes at a time when Israel is beginning to see stirrings of discontent with Netanyahu’s war strategy.

Last week, a member of Netanyahu’s war cabinet, former military chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, whose soldier son was killed in the ground offensive in Gaza, said the campaign had yet to achieve its aims of dismantling Hamas and there was no hope of freeing the captives held in Gaza in a military operation.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies